Same Ol’ Oscar

The 92nd Oscar nominations were reliably predictable.  No, this year’s list of honorees cannot rightly be categorized as #OscarsSoWhiteStraightMale.  But neither could the group even vaguely be considered #OscarsSoColorful, #OscarsSoInclusive or even #OscarsSoPurelyArtistic.

It does seem a bit quaint to even be discussing what Hollywood (Note: Whoever or whatever that is) deems deserving of its annual golden statuette when the world is falling apart around us but perhaps that’s the very reason to spend a bit of time on it.  We all need a diversion or two, or twenty-three, and well, every year the Motion Picture Academy never fails to both come through AND simultaneously disappoint.

The Academy always comes through…

That said, it was interesting to see just how aware the Academy was of just how white the awards had the potential to be.  You could tell by their choice of not one but two people of color – Issa Rae and John Cho – to announce the nominees to an international audience.  That’s twice as many non-White people that were nominated in all four acting categories combined!

It’s a sad state that Green Book was more diverse

Meaning, Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of color to be singled out in an acting category this year for her lead performance as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the fine historical drama, Harriet.  Does it count for diversity that Antonio Banderas was also nominated for his lead role in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant semi-autobiographical pic Pain and Glory? That’s for social media to decide so you’re on your own there.

Leading the list of this year’s nominated films with ELEVEN nods was…Joker? Well, the title of that film alone says everything you need to know about the times we live in.  Close behind were: The Irishman and 1917 and Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood with ten each.

More like a TEN (but really, this did factor in right?)

The aforementioned Ms. Erivo was also one of a handful of recipients to receive two Oscar nominations in two separate categories this year.  Her second was as co-writer in the best song category for Harriet’s “Stand Up.”  Also double nominated were: Scarlett Johansson as both lead actress and supporting actress for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, respectively; and David Heyman as a producer on two potential best picture winners, Marriage Story AND Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.

Here is a full list of the nominations along with some (accurate? snide? bitchy?) opinions on those chosen and those left out of the major categories.  Let’s save the rest for when the awards are handed out on Feb. 9th.   In the meantime, get your Joker masks ready, the next four weeks promise to be….memorable?

My mantra to get through these nominations

BEST PICTURE

FORD V FERRARI  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT  Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER  Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN  Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY  Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917  Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE  Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

The question is, what DIDN’T get nominated?  Pretty much all the films predicted to get a nod in this category managed to squeak through.  The possible exception was Knives Out, which nevertheless received what more and more seems to be the consolation prize of a writing nomination, in this case for its director Rian Johnson.

Still gets top honors for best knit!

What else MIGHT have been nominated in this category even though you’d be crazy to expect it?   Well, the indie movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco should not have to rely solely on the Independent Spirit Awards to be named among the best films of the year when it is clearly that and more.   But don’t get me started on the #OscarsSo……. Again.

DIRECTING

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese

JOKER  Todd Phillips

1917  Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Bong Joon Ho

Here’s the thing.  Greta Gerwig, Little Women, Lulu Wang, The Farewell, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alma Har’el, Honeyboy and Kasi Lemons, Harriet.  When you have five women who directed the aforementioned Oscar caliber films and not one gets nominated in this category, well, this is why people begin to talk.

We riot at dawn #burnitdown #justiceforGreta

Though whenever this subject comes up I point to the SOLE FEMALE to WIN best director, Kathryn Bigelow.  She got the award for her work on The Hurt Locker, a war movie with a male protagonist.  What this tells us, aside from the fact that Bigelow is a great director, is that the subject matter of a movie has as much to do with the gender of a director where the Oscar nominees (and winners) are concerned.

Anyone hungry? #sausagefest

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

ANTONIO BANDERAS   Pain and Glory

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

ADAM DRIVER  Marriage Story

JOAQUIN PHOENIX  Joker

JONATHAN PRYCE  The Two Popes

There are those who might rightly be grousing that the performances of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman should have gotten a nod.  But truly the best performance of the year NOT in this category was in Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler did the best acting of his career as a Jewish, compulsive gambler jeweler who can’t get out of his own way in an unrelenting and uncomfortably riveting film.  Does he deserve the Oscar for it?  Yes.  Do I care if you disagree?  No, cause it’s true.

Get ready for Grown Ups 3 #sigh

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOM HANKS  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

ANTHONY HOPKINS  The Two Popes

AL PACINO  The Irishman

JOE PESCI  The Irishman

BRAD PITT  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

Brad Pitt is really the only one who matters here…for so many reasons.  Least of which is that Mr. Pitt is the sole person in this category NEVER to have won an acting Oscar.

This category is so 90s, you have to watch all the nominees on VHS

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 CYNTHIA ERIVO  Harriet

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Marriage Story

SAOIRSE RONAN  Little Women

CHARLIZE THERON  Bombshell

RENÉE ZELLWEGER  Judy

Yeah, it was between Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina (The Farewell) for the female of color slot and Cynthia won.  Just kidding, sort of, but not…really.  However, it won’t matter.  Renee Zellweger’s daring recreation of Judy Garland at the end of her life, singing and all, will win and should win.

Although Charlize wins for inspiring the most gasps (and nightmares)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KATHY BATES  Richard Jewell

LAURA DERN  Marriage Story

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Jojo Rabbit

FLORENCE PUGH  Little Women

MARGOT ROBBIE  Bombshell

Did you really think J Lo would be nominated for doing her Oscar pole dance in Hustlers?  Really?  No, I mean…really???  Really????????

MAYBE WE DID CHAIRY?!?!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

THE IRISHMAN  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT  Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER  Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN  Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES  Written by Anthony McCarten

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

KNIVES OUT  Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY  Written by Noah Baumbach

1917  Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

You could have read three or four articles predicting the screenplay nominations and scored close to 100% in both of these categories.  But for my money, the big omission is Booksmart, a coming of age/last night of high school story chock full of memorable characters in hilariously awkward situations you felt you had both seen and never seen before.  So imaginative, heartfelt, funny and extremely difficult to achieve that it took four writers – Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Of course the fact that they’re four women writing a female driven narrative had NOTHING to do with the snub!

What does the Oscars have against girls and poles?

Not to downgrade the rest, but I got up at 5:15 am for this!  So, here they are without comment:

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD 

I LOST MY BODY 

KLAUS 

MISSING LINK 

TOY STORY 4 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE IRISHMAN  Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER  Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE  Jarin Blaschke

1917  Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Robert Richardson

 

COSTUME DESIGN 

THE IRISHMAN  Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT  Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER  Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN  Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Arianne Phillips

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

AMERICAN FACTORY 

THE CAVE 

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY 

 FOR SAMA 

HONEYLAND  

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

 IN THE ABSENCE 

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL) 

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

WALK RUN CHA-CHA 

 

FILM EDITING

FORD V FERRARI  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN  Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT  Tom Eagles

JOKER  Jeff Groth

PARASITE  Yang Jinmo

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

CORPUS CHRISTI  Poland

HONEYLAND  North Macedonia

LES MISÉRABLES  France

PAIN AND GLORY  Spain

PARASITE  South Korea

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BOMBSHELL  

JOKER 

JUDY 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 

1917 

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

JOKER  Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN  Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY  Randy Newman

1917  Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER  John Williams

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I CAN’T LET YOU THROW YOURSELF AWAY  from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

(I’M GONNA) LOVE ME AGAIN  from Rocketman; Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin

I’M STANDING WITH YOU  from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

INTO THE UNKNOWN  from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP  from Harriet; Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

THE IRISHMAN 

JOJO RABBIT 

1917  

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

PARASITE 

 

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

DCERA (DAUGHTER) 

HAIR LOVE 

KITBULL 

MEMORABLE 

SISTER 

 

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

BROTHERHOOD 

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB 

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW 

SARIA 

A SISTER 

 

SOUND EDITING

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER 

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA 

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER  

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVENGERS: ENDGAME 

THE IRISHMAN 

THE LION KING 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Our Not So Golden Globe

Each year the Hollywood Foreign Press ushers in a star-studded season honoring excellence in film and TV with the Golden Globe Awards.

It’s a televised party in Beverly Hills where celebs and film/TV makers drink, eat and try to make merry in the very tight quarters of an overstuffed hotel ballroom.

Think your rich Aunt Mildred’s chance for the over-the-top second wedding she never had or the bar mitzvah reception for the son of some tech giant classmate of yours who bought Apple stock early and married late that you only managed to get on the list for because you ran into him at the airport while trying to hide the fact you were flying coach.

and as a bonus – this guy harasses you on the way in!

Of course, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

The Golden Globes are often the most entertaining of all old show biz awards shows because for some god forsaken reason they consistently get almost every major star in the industry to show up and give or get one of those quite surprisingly small mini-replicas of our great golden earth.

Although, I am glad that they got rid of that ugly marble podium

Though even that was tricky this year because nothing about our earth or the product produced during this time period seems to represent anything particularly golden, at least not in the traditional sense.

No, in real life we citizens of the world are holding our collective breaths about the possibility of real global warfare between the United States and Iran.  Or we are obsessing yet doing very little about climate change as this weekend we watched large swaths of the real Australian sky burn an ominous blood red thanks to over 146 (and counting) environmentally induced brush fires.

Don’t worry, I’ll recycle the empties

Neither the evening nor few of the nominated and/or winning films provided much release from those catastrophic doldrums either.  For instance, I very much enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood and its meticulous recreation of a 1969 Los Angeles.   But its win as best comedy/musical, director, screenplay and supporting actor still can’t help but remind us all of one of the most grisly crimes of our 20th century, the Tate-LaBianca murders; that is even as it tries to rewrite that history to give its victims (and us) our much more well-deserved (well, preferred) Hollywood ending.

Are you sure this didn’t clinch it?

The best drama and director award for Sam Mendes’ 1917 forced us to look back in terrifying detail at a fictionalized version of fact-based events in and around the battlefields of WWI.   While extremely well made, this also doesn’t so much as provide hope for humanity but hold a magnifying glass up to ALL the battlefields of our past and, inevitably, remind us of all those likely to come in our future.

On the television side, a miniseries win for yet another recreation of the catastrophic – the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl – brilliantly reminded even the most casual of viewers that another nuclear winter could even today be just one ignored safety regulation away. Not to mention that the recognition of Succession as best TV drama brought home every cynically snowflake propaganda worry we all ever had about Fox News and the Murdoch family through its fictional, though albeit much more entertainingly awful doppelgängers, the Roys.

He did! He did!

There were some small breaths of encouragement. Taron Edgerton and Renee Zellweger won best acting awards for personifying the real-life, stage and singing facsimiles of Elton John and Judy Garland as they rose to fame, slid into addiction and, well at least in one case, managed to survive.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her Fleabag season 2 gave some glamour and sympathy for those of us consistently making the wrong yet most human of choices even if it didn’t give us our full Hollywood happy Tarantino finale.  But perhaps that’s a clue to its popularity.  It doesn’t sugar coat our mistakes yet still shines some teeny tiny minuscule glint of light into all of our hopelessly aberrant collective futures.

Added bonus: Hot Priest!

Such was not the case with Globes’ host Ricky Gervais for most of the evening.  His shtick about being the worst possible choice to lead the festivities proved incredibly prescient given the world events of the preceding week and the jokes he chose to perform.

He opened by touting the Globes’ decision to this year serve an all-vegetarian menu but then chided its members for being, ahem, vegetables.  He attempted a timely jab at director Martin Scorsese for recently stating superhero movies were not cinema but more like amusement park rides he had no interest in and then cracked at the irony of the director’s statement because Scorsese was too short to actually meet the height requirement to ride in one. (Note: Har, Har?)

Me, during the opening monologue

Joaquin Phoenix, who won a Globe for playing the nihilistic title role in Joker, did try to be real and modest and world-aware.  Yet he managed to end his speech by saying it wasn’t enough to simply urge the Globes’ worldwide audience to “vote” their issues at the ballot box or voice concern about Australian climate change the way that others who came before him onstage had done. No, what he proclaimed from the podium was that what each one of the affluent in that room should do was to pledge to stop flying private jets to Palm Springs!  

Do not come for my Palm Springs trips!

Well, you gotta start somewhere, right?  And no, I am not paraphrasing.

Yes, of course, there were lovely moments.  Michelle Williams’ win for playing Broadway legend Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon urging women to use their voices and votes to make the reality of the country better reflect its 51% female population.  Kate McKinnon’s tearful tribute to Ellen DeGeneres as the role model of what could be possible for her young lesbian self.  Tom Hanks on the true wonder of being a working actor who is nothing more than a small part of a larger team who must deliver in that moment to make each shot or the scene any good at all.

Everybody loves Hanks

Still, at the end of the evening one couldn’t help but think that our en masse feelings about the Globes/Globe, both in the ballroom and for those watching at home, were best captured by Mr. Gervais’ in his not very encouraging but thankfully closing line of the night to us:

Get drunk, take your drugs, f-k off.

This being a Hollywood production, needless to say that very last phrase was bleeped.

Complete list of the 2020 Golden Globe Winners

Sam Smith ft. Renee Zellwegger – “Get Happy” 

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

Downey Soft

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 6.21.30 AM

According to a recent statement by the brilliant actor Robert Downey Jr., running a professional film production means, among other things:

  • Making sure your star actor doesn’t have to work on his birthday or anywhere near a holiday
  • Never having to sacrifice to or even think about the demands of a tight budget, and
  • Not requiring or even asking an above-the-title guy like himself to do even less than a weeks worth of press interviews around the time of release in order to sell the film

Well, what do you want for $20-$30 million plus dollar one gross percentage per movie?

Found in RDJ's bathroom

Found in RDJ’s bathroom

To be fair, Mr. Downey stated this to Entertainment Weekly a few days ago on a press tour to promote the mega-budget studio film The Avengers: Age of Ultron and was specifically speaking about why he has absolutely no desire to ever again do a $500,000 budgeted indie film – or presumably even one for under $5,000,000.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to say how absolutely disappointing it is to hear this. Not to mention obnoxious.

For my money, Mr. Downey is truly the best of the best in his age group and has been so for a very long time. Of course, now that he is part of several superhero franchises as our Iron Man and our Sherlock Holmes he seems to use about .01% of his vast reserve of talent. Still, even that is perfectly legitimate. Heck, if any one of us were being offered that kind of f-k-off money for six months of work in middle age you’d better believe the vast majority of us would take it. Not to mention, the Ironman films especially and The Avengers films to some extent are mass entertaining in large part due to Mr. Downey’s talents and – well – a man or a woman (Note: Where are all the solo FEMALE superhero movies???) deserves to be (properly?) rewarded when they can so effectively elevate sequel after sequel far above the very low bar for even escapist movie fare these days.

He said it.

He said it.

Nevertheless, judge for yourself. Here is exactly what was recently said by one of my all time favorite film guys AND the one famous actor I have repeatedly opted for over the years when asked the ubiquitous question: If you were allowed to have _____ with any famous movie star without retribution who would it be?

EW: Do you ever have a craving after making one of these (“Avengers”) to make like a $500,000 budgeted indie movie?

RDJ: No.

(Nervous chuckles all around)

EW: Why?

RDJ: Because they’re exhausting and sometimes they suck and then you just go, “What was I thinking?” But I’m interested in doing all different kinds of movies. Sometimes the little movies are the ones that wind up taking the most out of you because they’re like, “Hey, man, we’re just running a couple of days behind. Do you think you can stay through your birthday and then come back on the Fourth of July? And, by the way, but, like, the crew — can you pay for the craft services? And, oh, by the way, man, when we go to Sundance, it’s like, can we just sit you in a chair and you can sell this for six days in a row so that we’ll make 180 bucks when it opens in one theater? God, this is so powerful what we’re doing. What do you think of the movie? You saw it last night?”

“I thought it’s mediocre.”

“Yeah, isn’t it the greatest?! Man, everyone’s an artist here.”

“Actually, most of you are kind of inexperienced and lame.”

Well, guess what, RDJ. I think you’re kind of lame. But this seems apt. Because in my experience when you build up someone you have fantasized about being with but truly don’t know all that well for too long, the truth of that person is almost always a disappointment.

You tell em, Joaquin

You tell em, Joaquin

Say what you want about Matthew McConaughey and his Oscar-winning performance in the movie Dallas Buyers Club, which was made for about 12 cents, or perhaps proclaim you didn’t get Gods and Monsters, which won a best screenplay Oscar 17 years ago, starred Ian McKellan and was shot in under 30 days for the 1988 equivalent of 12 cents – each of them would NEVER have gotten made without some name talent attached. Nor would Mr. Downey’s career, which was sadly interrupted due to a long-term jail sentence as a result of drug addiction, even been resurrected were it not for the willingness of smaller films and bigger names to take a chance on him, vouch for his reliability and hope upon hope he could once again deliver the sparks of genius he previously showed in films like Chaplin, Natural Born Killers and yes, Less Than Zero.

How quickly we all forget.

I don’t know Mr. Downey so I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on in his head these days. Maybe he’s just tired. Or perhaps he really wasn’t the guy I thought he was. (Note: Perhaps?). But there’s a larger issue here and that is the willingness of many of us, including myself at times, to take the easier or at least more financially profitable way out when given the chance.

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

Next RDJ stars as the Monopoly Man in the big screen adaptation of the Parker Brothers boardgame #itcouldhappen

We live in a capitalist society and with worldwide economic uncertainty there is clearly something to be said for making as much money as one can in order to ensure a secure life for yourself and your family when times take their next inevitable downturn. But how much is enough and when does one begin to sacrifice other essentials in the name of what one considers financial and familial peace of mind? That, one supposes, is a matter of opinion and certainly an area where we are all at some point more than likely going to get tripped up on since there is no easy answer.

Nowhere is this question more unclear than it is in the entertainment business. One man’s artistic endeavor is another man’s lameness. And another man’s lameness can, in part, be caused by his lack of artistic chance-taking, cushy private jets and lack of empathy for those trying yet sometimes not succeeding at delivering a small piece of humanity to less than 3000 movie screens per weekend across the country.

Hey Robert... remember when I was Batman?

Hey Robert… remember when I was Batman?

Fill in movies like Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2, Ironman 2 & 3 wherever you see fit in any or all of the above categories. And then consider where you’d put The Judge. Lord knows I wouldn’t begin to direct you into deciding just how lame they are or are not. I will also stay away from including The Avengers, which I rather liked, and the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I have not yet seen, in either category. And that’s not only because my students would kill me or that I believe Joss Whedon is a really cool and talented guy.

What I have also entirely avoided here is another press incident with Mr. Downey the week before when he walked out mid-interview because he didn’t like the line of questioning a British reporter was serving up about his past drug addiction and whether or not he was still haunted by those “demons.” This is always dicey territory for a journalist whose job it is to ask the tough, relevant questions, and the subject whose option it is to not answer or walk out on questions he doesn’t want to respond to or deems irrelevant.

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I chose to give Mr. Downey the benefit of the doubt when he chose to leave, even though his on-air excuse was – “what are we doing here” and “are(n’t) we promoting a movie?” Well, uh, no RDJ – you are doing an interview with a journalist whose job it is to be a reporter, not your publicist. Still, it’s fair not to have to delve back down into the depths of an uncomfortable subject that you don’t believe is pertinent to the news at hand and, as always, you have every right to make an abrupt exit.

However, what seems quite unfair is to snidely look down from your now very, very high pile of money, access and – there’s no other way to say it… privilege – and make snide, cutting remarks about people who are doing their very best to tell the stories that places like Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Fox, Sony and Walt Disney Studios have no desire to tell anymore. One could also say it’s behavior unbecoming not only a superhero but any actor who has ever successfully played one.

And, finally, the very definition of LAME.

The 2nd Annual Rockers!

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 1.06.20 PMThis is not a BEST OF  list.   It’s about impact, surprise and lingering effect.  As a lifelong culture vulture, creative person and relentless observer of waaay too much, I have the greatest respect for anything out there that stays with me – particularly in a good way.   Mostly because it’s so tough to break through all the noise these days.   Or perhaps it’s just that lately I have the attention span of a gnat.

Of course, starting any project with the goal of making a huge and lasting splash is a sure recipe for disaster.  Much as I hate to admit, this has happened to me several times over the years.  However, when people hunker down and “do their own thing” (as they used to say back in the day) the result can sometimes be, for lack of a better word – sublime.

sub·lime

1. Characterized by nobility; majestic.

2. a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.

b. Not to be excelled; supreme.

3. Inspiring awe; impressive.

Did someone say Supreme?

Did someone say Supreme?

Any one of those could earn you a Rocker and, let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t want to be awarded a photo of a red mid-century style chair.  (Note: Chair – Rocker, get it?).  Though perhaps using the term nobility is a bit much. Definition #3 – impressive, inspiring awe – isn’t that enough?  Yes, I think so.  And these, in no particular order other than the one that we chose, are my OUR awards.

BEST ROCKIN’ INDIE DARLINGS

Short Term 12; Fruitvale Station; The Spectacular Now

Indie, dahling

Indie, dahling

These three movies, all low budget independent films, have more to say in 5 minutes than do most of their budget-bloated major studio brethren manage to serve up in two three hours.  Of course, their combined box-office grosses are not equivalent to the opening weekend of, say – Ironman 3; Thor 2; or even Jack the Giant Slayer.

What this confirms once more is that fine dramatic storytelling is not the goal of the major studios anymore.  Though if it manages to happen on one of their releases amid a large profit and even larger chance to cash in via future ancillary markets and/or rights, they’ll take it.

Do not write in and call me a snob or say that this has been so in the film biz for one or two decades.  I, and even we, know that.  But it’s getting worse.  Can’t we retain even a small sliver?  Well, in their own awe-inspiring, impressive ways all three of the above did that and more.

Short Term 12:  Bravura performances all around in a deceptively multi-layered and tight original screenplay from first time writer-director Destin Cretton – whose next announced project is the film adaptation of the bestselling book The Glass Castle, starring Jennifer Lawrence.  If there is any justice Mr. Cretton will be Oscar and WGA nominated for his story of juvenile outcasts and the young people who try to help them at a “short term” facility – but there likely isn’t.  Still – now he’s got JLaw so it’s a win-win.

The Spectacular Now: A throwback to the small romantic dramas of decades ago where two mismatched, oddball young people fall in love in a most uncomfortable way.  It’s not perfect but it has so much heart that it wins you over.  This is in part due to actors Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller and to an even greater extent as a result of the adaptation of the book by 500 Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, and the precise, sensitive work of director James Ponsoldt.  The script lingered for years before Ms. Woodley, a hot commodity after starring as George Clooney’s troubled daughter in The Descendants, became its champion.  Lesson here:  Create great roles for actors.

Fruitvale Station: Finally caught up with it last night at home and am still foaming at the mouth with rage at the murder six years ago of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old African American male who was finally about to get his life together for the sake of his daughter, his family and himself.  The choice of writer-director and USC film school grad Ryan Coogler to tell this real life story in an unembellished pseudo-documentary style is what’s most impressive here.  The film was developed through Sundance and won best dramatic feature.   Yes, there are those who like to dismiss Sundance these days as pretentious and elitist.  Watch this movie before you go there.   In fact, just don’t go there anymore.

STEFON’S FAREWELL!

Bill Hader left the cast of Saturday Night Live at the end of the season this year and along with that went the departure of Stefon – his beloved club kid correspondent for Weekend Update.  Since goodbyes are often an inevitable and dreaded part of life – especially when it comes to the mercurial television landscape – it was at least nice to see that he was sent off with love and style and his own sort of gay wedding.

What can you say about a segment that featured Furbies, the real DJ Baby Bok Choy and an Anderson Cooper-Seth Meyers fist fight?  Only that it was a perfect homage and finale to one of SNL’s most original and beloved characters.

(Note:  For everything you ever wanted to know about the 38 seasons of SNL check out the funny, brand new and exhaustively researched book, Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About Television’s Longest-Running ComedyThe author is Stephen Tropiano and he’s the Seth to my inner Stefon)

Note: Hader created Stefon with the very talented comedian-writer John Mulaney.  His standup act is hilarious and he is doing a new TV comedy for Fox next year in which he’ll star as the young, struggling comedian he once was.  Co-starring will be Martin Short.  Must see TV?  We think so.

ROCKIN’ NEWS MOMENT OF THE YEAR 

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US Supreme Court Pro Gay Marriage Ruling.

Starring:  Rob Reiner, David Boies, Ted Olson, Edie Windsor, Kristin Perry & Sandra Stier, Paul Katami & Jeffrey Zarrillo – and President Barack Obama.

There has not been a film or television movie about it – yet.  But this year’s landmark US Supreme Court rulings that officially legalized gay marriage on a federal level is a landmark case that will have positive civil rights repercussions for generations.

Not to be partisan – but I will be – the reasoning behind this decision was foreshadowed in Pres. Obama’s 2013 inauguration speech where he talked about the journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”  Translation:  the struggle for women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights are all one in the same and if the US stands for anything it means we progress towards freedoms for not some but all Americans.    Here is his exact quote:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

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Arguing the case were lawyers Boies and Olson – adversaries in another famous US Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, for the courageous LGBT defendants Windsor, Perry, Stier, Katami and Zarrillo.  Oh, and if you don’t think it takes courage to be the public face in a civil rights case in terms of time, attention and vociferous hate mail – try it some time.  Or better yet, just post a comment to any random website where you disagree with an extreme right wing position – as I did this weekend about A & E’s reversing its decision to reinstate Duck Dynasty’s hate-speaking Phil Robertson – and note the number of truly savage, hate-filled responses you get.  It ain’t pretty.

A meathead no more!

A meathead no more!

Finally, you can dislike whatever Rob Reiner films you choose to but you cannot be disagreeable about his overwhelming commitment of time and energy to both raise money and personally finance the fight for gay marriage through it’s case origins in California right up through to the US Supreme Court.  There are political activists in the industry but few with Mr. Reiner’s reach, fervor or unwavering determination.  And, uh – p.s. – he’s not even g-a-y.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

BREAKING BAD – THE FINALE SEASON

Tear.

Tear.

There are so few moments in pop culture that live up to the hype.  But the phenomenon that was Breaking Bad was one of them.  I was admittedly late to the game in catching up with all seven seasons but given the national cultural hysteria I finally gave in, knowing full well that I would inevitably be disappointed.

Okay, well, so I don’t know everything.

I chronicled my eight days of binge-watching all 52 BB episodes here in time to join the real world in real time for the finale.  It might make my life seem small and insignificant to note that it is one of the few experiences I will never forget – but only if you have never tuned in and checked out the show itself.

Why does it work?   There are so many obvious reasons – great writing, acting, directing and across-the-board terrific technical talents.  But it was also a perfect reflection of our times in telling the story of an extremely smart but downtrodden everyman – nee a financially struggling high school chemistry teacher who is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer– who will do anything to provide not only for his family but for himself before he dies.  And anything means – A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If you want to know more than that, borrow some DVDs or hack into someone else’s Netflix account.

Finales are tricky but this one proved every bit as powerful as each and every episode before it.  Sadly, this was not the case with another departing hit show fave of mine – Dexter.  Yes, endings are tough.   But ending well and going out the way you came in (Note:  Yes, that’s an unintentional quote from the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls) – that’s the toughest.

ROCKIN’ THE WOOL OVER THE AUDIENCE’S EYES  — IT’S A TIE!!!

HBO’S Behind the Candelabra  &  NBC’s The Sound of Music – LIVE

Help!

Help!

Popularity doesn’t mean you rock.  It just means you’re popular.  I mean, did Paris Hilton rock?  Does (or did?)  Kim Kardashian?  Or, to put it another way, did Crash deserve to win the best picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain? (Note: Watch them again and then compare and report back).

What popularity does account for are bodies taking notice of you or your deeds or your product.  That does not mean you’re good or even well done.  It just means you are and that you got A LOT of attention.

Therefore, by any objective standards the Liberace movie called Behind the Candelabra and the NBC live three-hour broadcast of the beloved musical The Sound of Music starring country singer Carrie Underwood were phenomenal hits.  But to my mind, not in a good way.  Carrie Underwood has a pleasant voice but cannot act.  I mean, I could’ve played a better Maria – especially if I got to do some of those lines next to Audra MacDonald.

As for story of closeted gay icon pianist Liberace – it was not the true story – that would have been far more salacious since Liberace’s real life lover Scott Thorson was 16 years old when they first met and couldn’t have been played by Matt Damon.  Had the real story been told – and not just the gay men as spectacle taleit would have had to be shown as the telefilm version of NBC’s To Catch A Predator.

In conclusion, and put it in high school terms – which often works in all things Hollywood – there is no way to argue with popularity.  It either is or it isn’t and you either are or you’re not.  But remember – the Emperor’s New Clothes were once popular, too.   Just sayin’.

ROCKIN’ SENTIMENTAL MOVIE OF THE YEAR

Saving Mr. Banks

Believe the hype.

Believe the hype.

No, I’m not going to defend myself.  I loved it — and not just because I loved Mary Poppins as a kid. The film is being sold as a comedy but it’s really about how writers (or any artists) try to survive the painful moments of childhood by weaving its high and low points into some sort of creative expression that can correct and/or save you or your loved ones from the situation.  As a writer who has done just that – and speaking for anyone else who hopes to do just that – you can keep all of your snide, snickering bah humbug remarks to yourself.

Plus – there’s Emma Thompson.  She’s not only sad, touching and irascibly funny in the movie, she gives the most hilarious press interviews you’ll ever want to see.  Case closed.

ROCKIN’ MALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

Me-Ow

Me-Ow

The guy can act AND sing.  No, seriously – he can really, really sing.  You can’t fake that when you’re playing the lead role of a folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village in a Coen Bros. movie and a good part of the film is you, in five feet of close-up, chirping unadorned for the entire international world to see.

Also when the moments that you are singing onstage are the only ones where the audience can truly sympathize with your character’s plight, it is an enormous acting challenge.  Therefore, it didn’t surprise me or anyone else to hear the filmmakers admit publicly on a panel after an early screening of their film that had Mr. Isaac not walked in and nailed his audition very late in the casting process they were not sure if they would be able to make their movie at all.

The film as a whole is to a taste.  Okay, it’s odd.  But it’s also a rare opportunity to watch someone you’ve probably never seen onscreen before totally morph into an unforgettable character you’re unlikely to see onscreen again at any time soon.  If ever.

ROCKIN’ FEMALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR IN TECH ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR:

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Oh, hiss and boo your own selves, as Bette Midler so aptly put it in her 1985 comedy album Mud Will Be Flung, Tonight!  I thought Sandy (yeah, that’s what everyone in the biz calls her) was pretty great in the movie….actually, quite great.

Fine – you try acting to nothing for most of your time on camera.  And when I say nothing I mean – nada.  There’s a green screen behind you.  You’re suspended in the air in a heavy faux astronaut’s uniform.  And you’re shooting on and off for years on end, trying to maintain some continuity of your character’s emotional state while the technical team behind your film tries over and over again to get the special effects just right.

Yeah, yeah, I know Cate Blanchett was terrific in Blue Jasmine.  But why does digging into the emotional life of a Ruth Madoff meets Blanche DuBois character have to trump the acting skill it takes to survive the contemporary vagaries of big major studio, SFX ridden contemporary Hollywood while simultaneously delivering an against-the-odds truly convincing performance that literally carries the film?  It doesn’t.  Sorry.  Sandy wins.

PS – Yes, her body looked good in those shorts.  So what??!!!

PPS – The movie was a huge leap in what we can do in SFX – not that you care!!

ROCKIN’ ACCLAIMED NOVEL I STARTED THREE TIMES BUT CAN’T YET CRACK: 

The Goldfinch By Donna Tart

This is thoroughly unfair but why can’t I read past pg. 20 of 761 pages no matter how many times I read those 20 pages over? I know the book is acclaimed but why, why, why is its prose so dry, dry, dry and leaving me so parched, parched, parched?  Too much TV?

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(Note: Before judging me you should know I read every wet word of both Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections AND Freedom and always wanted more).

ROCKIN’ UNACCLAIMED MEMOIR I LIKE TO READ ESSAYS FROM:

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, By Chris Kluwe

Also.. best hair!

Also.. best hair!

Funny, snide, smart, scrappy, funny, fun, fun.

And it’s not only because he’s hot and spoke up for the gays.  And…personally answered one of my tweets.  On Twitter.  In a direct message.  Okay, maybe that’s part of it.  But it’s not…everything.

ROCKIN(EST) SCARY VERSION OF THE FUTURE THAT MIGHT ALREADY BE THE PRESENT:

Spike Jonze’s Her

Falling in love... no buffering

Falling in love… no buffering

This is a world where a lonely fella can fall in love with his operating system (OS).  Yes, the OS is voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson, who strangely enough gives what, oddly, is her best screen performance.  The sexy rasp and all…

Still, there is something significant happening here that goes well beyond Simone, the interesting but long forgotten 2002 film where a man concocts the ideal virtual female.  What’s going on is also significantly depressing if you think about it for too long or in the wrong way.  What is the right way to consider a world in the not so distant future where many of us are so incapable of relationships that we turn to our computers or mobile devices for our primary emotional attachments?  To admit that it is really happening right now?  Or to dismiss that notion as some sort of superficial movie industry take on New Media for Dummies?  Hmm, maybe neither.

None of this would work at all were it not for Joaquin Phoenix’s extremely committed performance.  But none of it would even be possible at all without the originality Spike Jonze brings to a subject matter so easy to present in a hackneyed way.

Wait – originality?  Yeah, I said it – you didn’t have to.  So, maybe 2013 leaves us with some hope after all?  Well, we can all rock to… this: